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Massively interviews EVE's Lead Economist part 2

James Egan

The starbase exploit has been some big news lately. How does it impact your ability to assess the state of EVE's economy, and are there assumptions you've made in the past that you need to reassess now?

It's a good thing that you mentioned the starbase exploit because we are in the final stages of creating a very thorough dev blog on that, which will hopefully be published very soon. [Note: this interview was conducted just prior to the release of the investigation's findings.]

There are certain things with the POS exploit that made it very difficult to detect. You basically needed to be able to go to that particular starbase and look at it, look at the setup and so on. It was difficult for us to detect it otherwise, except from the code once we knew what we were looking for.

From a market perspective the EVE economy has become so big that in order for you to impact the market you will really have to have large quantities. And as will be shown in this dev blog that will be published, the scale of the exploit really didn't start until late 2008... to the large industrial scale so that it started to impact the market.

Right. So the exploit existed [before that] but it wasn't really being used?

Not to the extent that it would impact the market greatly, but that came later. We were already looking at data and asking ourselves [if] there's something going on that we couldn't explain, just through the data.

I'm confident that we would have found this within a few months into 2009 if it hadn't been pointed out by players in December. Given the experience from this exploit, we are already, here in Research & Statistics, creating new ways of mining the market data in order to try to see anomalies with individual items. So far we've been very much focused on describing the EVE economy overall but projects in 2009 will definitely focus more on individual items.

What measures did CCP need to take to stabilize the market once the full extent of the exploit was known?

None. That's a result of the single shard approach that we're able to have such a strong market that we simply monitored what was going on. Yes of course prices increased because there was less availability of certain items, but no adjustments as such were needed from CCP because the stuff was still available. This was basically a price adjustment that reflected the relative scarcity of the materials in-game.

In addition we had put in Alchemy earlier in 2008, completely unrelated to this exploit. It was just our way of putting in new and interesting gameplay. When you have a very scarce resource, what would you do in real life? You would try to find another way to come up with the material that you needed, correct? So we thought that adding that kind of gameplay to EVE would make sense, and that will help in the future with providing the scarce high end moon material needed.

"EVE is designed as a sandbox where we give the players the tools and we encourage them to evolve and develop this world by themselves. "

So we can say that the tool is in place for the players to react to this increased scarcity. However we monitored the situation closely and if needed, we would have been able to take action. But our general approach is that we do not do so unless we're absolutely sure that it's necessary... and [even] then we think about it once again before we take actions.

Moving forward, what new tools or approaches will CCP have to identify issues of this sort?

We can put that into several different aspects. We've been improving our quality assurance processes and will make sure that in our future development -- since this was code written back in 2004 -- we will have different processes in terms of reviewing and evaluating the code.

We will improve our handling of exploit petitions coming through customer support to make sure that they're all handled correctly and that they don't fall through the cracks, even though there's limited information provided from the players. So we'll look at them in more detail, give them a higher priority in our handling.

And for my team in terms of research and statistics, we will be more alert to anomalies in the market data and analyzing in detail individual transactions. So we are approaching this on multiple platforms and trying to minimize the risk of this happening in the future.

Alright, so stepping away from New Eden for a moment and into real life -- there's been talk that CCP was considering leaving Iceland, largely due to currency restrictions resulting from the country's economic troubles. What is the situation with CCP Games presently?

The situation is just at the same stage it's been throughout the years. We are very proud of being a company founded and headquartered in Iceland and we want to remain headquartered here, but we may look into other options if the situation becomes unbearable. Currently we have no plans to move the headquarters of CCP or any of our other offices around the world.

CCP has introduced a legitimized RMT into EVE through EVE Time Codes and more recently with PLEX. Why was this a necessary step?

I would not say that it is a legitimized RMT as we [typically] understand RMT, because we have had for a long time that you were able to trade time codes on our forums. So basically introducing this into the game was simply a natural step in trying to make the trade more efficient, because the trading on the EVE market with a population of 250,000 is very efficient. To me it just makes sense that we would have the ability to trade these time codes among the players in a framework that they know. The trade was already going on on the forums, and allowed by us.

The difference between our system and the general RMT system is basically that you are not able to take money out of EVE through our system. You're only able to, as we see it, put extra time into EVE.

So if you are buying a PLEX and taking it into the game and creating time codes out of that, you are basically paying the time for another EVE player to play along with. You're basically supporting another EVE player to add to the community. Since EVE is single shard approach, the more people that we have in EVE, the better experience for everyone. So we see it as a positive thing that people can support each other playing.

RMT operations are however, unfortunately, often associated with hacking and using exploits, etc. and basically not providing good gameplay for the rest of EVE. For me the huge difference here is that PLEX is institutionalizing and helping player to support each other through gameplay, and they are not making real life dollars out of it. Whereas RMT has completely different incentives.

My last question is really about the future. There has been talk of a number of enhancements to EVE's economic side in terms of game mechanics or tools for players. What kinds of changes do you see on the horizon that could benefit EVE's industrialists and marketeers?

We could generally say that the tools that would help them are anything that will help them to analyze and disseminate information about markets, marketing, production, and research within EVE. So giving them an additional set of information and a different way of communicating about what they are specifically interested in are probably the best way that we can support that kind of playstyle in the near future.

"We are very proud of being a company founded and headquartered in Iceland and we want to remain headquartered here, but we may look into other options if the situation becomes unbearable. Currently we have no plans to move the headquarters of CCP or any of our other offices around the world."

Now as a long term plan, adding new game features in is of course something that I personally would like to see in terms of adding more advanced corporate structures and adding more advanced institutions that allow for trade and securities, that allow for trade in stocks. When you have those in place then you would of course have the opportunity to start trading in futures and options.

That, however, requires quite an extensive development phase and quite extensive programming. It also needs to be defined who is responsible for monitoring those institutions. Should that be CCP or should that be the players...?

That's interesting.

So before we head down that road of development, we need to think about those issues. So I'm not seeing that coming into the game in the near future, but this is definitely something that a lot of people have talked about as being on their wish list of what we would like to see develop within the industrial and financial part of EVE.

We have already discussed in one meeting with the Council of Stellar Management the responsibility for the stock market. How should that be monitored and who should be verifying or auditing documents from companies, information about their operations? That's just been on a discussion level between CCP and the CSM. I strongly encourage our players to continue that discussion within their group, and send the message to the CSM about how they would like to see this part of the game develop in the future.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with Massively, Dr. EyjoG.

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